(Story provide by the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture.)
When Kyle Owen started his farming operation in 2004, he had 32 acres of burley tobacco and some farming equipment that he pulled out of weedy fence rows.
Being named “Tennessee Farmer of the Year” could not have been further from his mind.
Yet in his nearly 20 years of farming, his passion for agriculture, work ethic, and business sense have combined to morph that original 32 acres of tobacco to more than 6,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat as well as tobacco, watermelons and pumpkins. That’s among the many reasons that Katie Martin, University of Tennessee Extension-Smith County agriculture agent and county director, was proud to nominate Owen to be the 2023 Tennessee Farmer of the Year. Though the process involved a detailed and rigorous application, she was very excited that the effort was rewarded.
“I admire Kyle’s hard work and determination,” Martin says. “Very few people can build what Kyle has built as a first-generation farmer. The way he has diversified and grown his farm inspires all those young people who dream of a career in production agriculture but aren’t blessed to grow up on a multi-generational farm. Kyle is a testament that it is possible to make it. He has faced many challenges and has overcome each one with a little innovation and a lot of grit.”
When asked how he was able to grow his operation Owen says, “Although it was a struggle with very little labor and equipment, that first crop was a success. I had a profitable year and began a plan to grow 50 acres the next year and 80 acres the following year, and by 2011, I had purchased my first farm, had a full lineup of equipment, and was growing nearly 300 acres of tobacco.”
He continues his story with more emphasis on planning and crop diversification.
“While tobacco had been good to me,” says Owen, “I knew to stay profitable I needed to diversify my operation and get a steady crop rotation. So, in 2011 I leased an additional 350 acres, bought a combine and planter, and began my endeavor into corn and soybean production.”
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